Don’t know does not always mean ‘they don’t know’

How to lead a team effectively

One of the most important tasks as a leader is to help your team members find their own solutions. As they find more effective ways to work, the more independent and more the self motivated they become.

However when you ask questions it is easy to become flummoxed when someone responds “I don’t know”

Do you sit patiently and listen, giving them time to think?  


Do you take this as your signal to dive in with your opinions and suggestions about what you think they should or could do?

If you are one that sits patiently well done, in our experience more of us are tempted or even on auto-pilot to jump in with our ideas and suggestions. Unfortunately ‘don’t rarely is the truth. More times than not, they do know or at least will when they have time to think.

By jumping in too soon you can leave someone incapable of exploring their own thinking, disabling them from finding a solution for themselves.

There are at least 3 different don’t knows that we know of.

The 3 don’t knows and what we believe they could mean:

When we train Extreme Listening for Productive Thinking, we talk about  3 don’t know’s, I am sure there are more so please feel free to share below if you come up with any others:

  1. Don’t know:   I really don’t know I have no idea for example: I have never built a jumbo jet so I have no idea what component you need to fix that problem.
  2. Don’t know: That is the first time I have been asked about that and I need a bit of time to consider it.
  3. Don’t know: The first thing that came to mind seems a bit daft, I need to talk it through to gain some clarity and right now I am not sure if you will judge me or worse still laugh at me so I will opt to say don’t know for now.
It is important to give people time to think their answers through, but it also important to know the difference between people who:
  • think to talk – they need you to give them that time to think before they speak
  • others talk to think and they will need you to listen without judgement until they can explain to themselves and then they can respond to you
What is happening when you are thinking at your best?
When you are asked questions what do you like to have happen, if you don’t know the answer straight away?
Notice over the next couple of days what happens and please do share below.
Plan your next best steps
What would you like to have happen next?
Can you?
Thank you for listening
What is happening at Step by Step Listening?
Power Group Plus is a 3 day intensive personal development programme where we train you to know how to ask questions that help others think productively and we help you learn how to know what kind of ‘don’t know’ it is this time…




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